BBC abandons science
And falls into singularity-shaped hole
TV BBC TV's venerable science flagship, Horizon, has had a rough ride as it tries to gain a new audience. It's been accused of "dumbing down". That's nothing new - it's a criticism often leveled at it during its 42 year life.
But instead of re-examing its approach, the series' producers have taken the bold step of abandoning science altogether. This week's film, "Human v2.0", could have been made for the Bravo Channel by the Church of Scientology. The subject at hand - augmenting the brain with machinery - was potentially promising, and the underlying question - "what makes a human?" - is as fascinating as ever. Nor is the field short of distinguished scientists, such as Roger Penrose, or philosophers, such as Mary Midgley, who've made strong contributions.
Yet Horizon unearthed four cranks who believed that thanks to computers, mankind was on the verge of transcending the physical altogether, and creating "God" like machines.
"To those in the know," intoned the narrator, "this moment has a name." (We warned you it was cult-like, but it gets worse).
It's not hard to find cranks - the BBC could just as readily have found advocates of the view that the earth rests on a ring of turtles - and in science, yesterday's heresy often becomes today's orthodoxy. But it gets there through a well-established rigorous process - not through unsupported assertions, confusions, and errors a five-year old could unpick.
Let's return to the cult aspect.
The program began, and frequently returned to, shots of spooky silent Midwich Cuckoo children in a forest, apparently about to assert their God-like powers over Human 1.0.
Pill-peddler Ray Kurzweil (who pops 15 pills an hour in an attempt to stave off mortality) was cast as the guru. Kurzweil is part-owner of Ray And Terry's Wellness Products, where you can buy Ray's pills, and also read as you chomp along with Ray. Ray's own book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough To Live Forever promises "... a program designed to slow aging and disease processes to such a degree that you should be in good health and good spirits when the more extreme life-extending and life-enhancing technologies - now in development - become available."
[Accompanying the blurb is the necessary legal disclaimer: "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease." ]
Kurzweil's claims went unchallenged.